Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meacham Confirms Highway Traffic 'Spy' Camera System Meeting With Barry Switzer; J. C. Watts Involved In Louisiana, Wayne Pettigrew Says

Governor Henry's chief budget writer confirms to The McCarville Report Online that he met with former OU and Dallas Cowboys football coach Barry Switzer as Switzer advocated one company's plan for a system of controversial highway traffic "spy" cameras to nab insurance scofflaws that Switzer wanted Henry to include in his budget.

And while sources say former OU football star and ex-Congressman J. C. Watts also has been involved in Switzer's effort here, one of those involved says Watts joined Switzer on the company's behalf only in Louisiana and "shied away" from involvement in Oklahoma. Louisiana's governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, is a former Washington appointee in the Bush Administration and a former congressman.

Later Today: Has The InsureNet Push Run Aground?

Henry adopted the plan Switzer advocated and included it in his budget as a measure that would generate $50 million in new revenue (and more millions for a company chosen to administer the plan). It also apparently would generate considerable sums for Switzer and others lobbying for it in fees for their efforts.

Switzer says he is working on a contingency basis for InsureNet, the Chicago-based firm that has bid on the multi-million dollar Oklahoma contract.

Treasurer Scott Meacham, through Deputy Treasurer Tim Allen, told The McCarville Report Online that he met with Switzer. Said Allen: "Yes, he (Meacham) did meet several months ago with Coach Switzer."

Allen said Meacham, Henry's chief budget adviser, didn't immediately recall all the details, or the date of the meeting, but last Friday said he would provide that information.

Switzer has confirmed TMRO's initial report that he represents InsureNet in numerous states, but denied his advocacy of the firm's system in Oklahoma has anything to do with the governor or their close personal and political affiliation.

Henry's 'Not even involved'?
"Brad Henry is not even involved in this," Switzer told The Oklahoman's Randy Ellis despite the fact that the entire purpose of the Meacham meeting was for Switzer and others to advocate the InsureNet system to spot vehicle insurance scofflaws for inclusion in Henry's budget. It was included as a revenue measure by Henry after Meacham's meeting with Switzer; bids have been taken by the Department of Central Services but a contract has not yet been awarded.

Switzer said he doesn't believe his relationship to Henry had anything to do with InsureNet seeking him out to lobby on its behalf although it appears to be the company's method of operation to secure politically-connected public figures and former elected officials as its advocates.

Switzer's ties to Henry are long-standing. In Henry's 2002 campaign, Switzer emerged as a key fundraiser and his support of Henry is credited by some with helping Henry stage his upset win over Republican Steve Largent.

The connection has prompted the suggestion that Henry's adoption of the plan pushed by Switzer is political payback from Henry since Switzer stands to profit from the transaction. Switzer told The Oklahoman he's not yet been paid, but expects to be if the InsureNet plan is adopted: "If these states go on these contracts, I'm sure I'll get paid for doing it."

Contingency Fee Payments Prohibited
That statement has resulted in the citation, by some, of Oklahoma's law prohibiting contingency fees. The law, OS 21.9334, reads, "Contingency fee prohibited. No person may retain or employ a lobbyist ... for compensation contingent in whole or in part on the passage or defeat of any official action or the approval or veto of any legislation, issuance of an executive order or approval or denial of a pardon or parole by the Governor. No lobbyist may accept any employment or render any service for compensation contingent on the passage or defeat of any legislation or the approval or veto of any legislation by the Governor. Any person convicted of violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of not more than One Thousand Dollars or by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary not exceeding two years or by both such fine and imprisonment."

Pettigrew said, "I don’t know if Switzer had a contract or if he did if it was similar to mine with InsureNet but mine has a provision that if the contract would be in violation of any state or federal law, then it is null and void."

'All I do is open the door for them'
Switzer said InsureNet officials asked him to help introduce them to Meacham and others. He said he was introduced to InsureNet by Tinker Owens, the former OU wide receiver who is now a Norman insurance agent. (An internal InsureNet document viewed by TMRO shows Switzer, Tinker Owens and his brother, former OU star Steve Owens, as members of the "InsureNet Team" in Oklahoma. Steve Owens, however, says he was invited to join the team but declined. He was not aware the document is in circulation.)

Switzer said he introduced InsureNet officials to executives in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico. "All I do is open the door for them," he said.

Switzer said he does not have a contract with InsureNet, only a handshake. Company officials did not respond to inquiries about the relationship of Switzer and others to the company, nor did Oklahoma City InsureNet lobbyist Chad Alexander, the former Oklahoma Republican Party chairman and former campaign manager for Watts. Governor Henry's office did not respond when asked when Henry met with Switzer.

Former Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, Edmond insurance agent who is partners with Tinker Owens in a Tulsa-based life insurance company, says he doesn't believe Watts has been active in Oklahoma for InsureNet: "I believe JC’s consulting company was only used in Louisiana," he told TMRO. However, another source said Watts made "introductory" phone calls for the company and Switzer in Louisiana, Nevada and other states.

Pettigrew has been a national representative of InsureNet and helped push the company's plan across the nation; he said today his contract expired on May 31st and he no longer is helping the company.

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